Monthly Archives: January 2012

Has Jesus let you down?

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.  And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.”  And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”  And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.”    Mark 1.35-39

Imagine starting your own business (perhaps some of you have).  After an incredible amount of preparation and diligence, you set sail hoping for the best.  And let’s imagine that your small business is an instant success in your community—meeting real needs and getting rave reviews.

How would you feel if the Mayor suddenly came to you and said, “Thanks for all your hard work but unfortunately it’s time to move on…”

Chances are that you’d feel just like the early disciples must’ve felt when Jesus said the same thing to them.  Despite their huge ministry gains and successes, he broke the news to them that it was time to move on and start over somewhere else.

As we continue following Jesus through the pages of the Gospel of Mark we come to this exact scenario.  Just when things are coming together and everyone is excited about the state of the future, Jesus says it’s time to pull up tent stakes and move on.  We haven’t even gotten out of chapter one yet.  In business terms it’s like Going Out of Business just after your Grand Opening.

Sometimes we enter seasons of life where we feel as if Jesus has let us down.  We have expectations of life (and ministry)–and just when we feel like we are gaining traction and momentum, Jesus changes direction on us.  Following him is an adventure in trust–for our trust  in him will either be ruthlessly pruned to grow stronger–or it will languish in the valley of unmet dreams and expectations.

The sudden decision of Jesus to switch gears on his disciples and move along is directly tied into his prayer life connection with God.  Mark shows us the dogged determination in which Jesus seeks this ongoing union with his heavenly Father.  Notice the four verbal phrases that describe his pursuit of prayer:  (a) “rising” (b) “he departed” (c) “and went” (d) “and there he prayed.”  Mark wants us to see that like the four walls of a house, Jesus’ spiritual architecture was a cathedral of connection to God.  And when Jesus switches gears on us we can rest assured that his decisions are made in the highest counsels of Heaven on our behalf.

Take note of the three descriptions of the circumstances of Jesus’ prayer life:  “very early in the morning,” “while it was still dark” and “out to a desolate place.”  None of these speak of comfort or convenience, do they?

Instead they describe lonely, dark places where few would want to go.  Perhaps there’s a lesson hidden here for us:  True life transforming prayer finds fertile soil in the most acidic of soils.  Jesus prayed when few were willing to do it and where few were willing to go.  This was because he would stop at nothing to reach you and me.  The disciples’ expectations were to stop in this place and build a ministry empire.  But Jesus had more heart-work to do on them–and the only way to access those deep parts would be to move them forward out of their comfort zones.

Think about the interior places of your life—the secret places of your heart.  Could they also be described as “dark” and “desolate”?

Of course Jesus went to these places to pray in order to avoid the crowds.

But he’s also sending a message to us:  It doesn’t matter how far down a person has gone.  Jesus’ love, warmth, and light are deeper still.  He’s not afraid to go to those dark and lonely places in your heart and life—and bring the transforming love of his Father to you.

May he be found in your desolate places today—shining his light that immediately begins to transform everything it touches.

Application:

1.  Do you think Jesus prayed this way every day, or was this just a special occasion?

2.  If you were one of the early disciples, how would you have felt about moving on with Jesus to other places and “starting over”?  How has Jesus crushed your expectations (and in so doing, brought growth to your soul)?

3.  Have you invited Jesus into the dark and lonely places of your heart?  Are you fearful of what he might see?  Or, are you more afraid of what he might show you?

Tagged

Why doesn’t God heal me?

“And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her.  And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.  That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons.  And the whole city was gathered together at the door.  And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.  And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.”    Mark 1.29-34

Americans spend billions per year on pain.  From headaches to fevers, we take no prisoners when it comes to our own prison of pain.  We avoid it like the plague (no pun intended).

In this short episode in the life and ministry of Jesus, we see him in the fishing village of Capernaum healing lots of people.  This passage teaches us two things about Jesus:  (1) he cares about your pain and suffering; and (2) he wants to do something about it.

Read the passage again.  Did Jesus blame anyone for their pain?  Did he say, “Well Yusef, that’s what happens when you don’t take care of yourself…I’ve always told you to wear a seatbelt when riding a camel!”  Did he shake his head in silent disapproval?  Did he turn anyone away?  Of course not.

This passage strikes home that Jesus sees your deepest hurts.   He knows what you are going through.

When we are suffering, one of the worst feelings is when (a) you can’t put into words how you really feel because the hurt is so deep and complicated, and (b) you feel wholly isolated by the hurt because no one understands completely what you’re going through.  This is the prison of pain—and we’ve all been there without any chance of parole.

Until Jesus comes…

Jesus comes to this town as if to say with one voice:  “I see your suffering–and I care!  Please believe me when I say that I WANT to do something about it.”

But you say, “I’ve run to Jesus in my prayers over and over again—and my pain is still here.  The loneliness doesn’t go away.  And no one seems to understand what I’m going through…”

Notice something in this passage that is easy to miss.  Does it say that Jesus healed all the people?  Upon a closer look we see that he healed “many” of the people.

That may seem cruel to us—why not heal them all?  Why not wipe every disease and flesh-eating bacteria off the map?  Why not wave his hand over the entire town—perhaps when everyone is sleeping—so they would all wake up healthy?  Why not do this for the entire region?  Why stop there—he’s on a roll!  He might as well heal everyone in the Middle East!  And on and on it goes…

But that’s not how Jesus does things.   Again, we see a familiar pattern unfolding in Mark:  Jesus doesn’t do things the way we would.

And in our pain, we cry out, “Why!!!!!????”

Yes, Jesus cares about your pain.  Yes, Jesus wants to do something about it.  But sometimes the greatest healing is not taking pain out of the formula of your life—but adding another variable to your life—a variable that changes everything.

This passage ultimately assures us that in our pain—Jesus is present.  In our loneliness and suffering we are not alone.  He knows how we feel—and yes, he suffers with us.  The God of the Universe enters our suffering with us.

Think of it this way:  Jesus went to the cross and suffered beyond any measure of our experience and understanding—so he could enter into our current suffering with his presence and life sustaining Spirit.  On the cross, Jesus was cut off from God in his suffering—so you and I would never have to be cut off in our suffering.

This means that sometimes he will heal us physically.  But sometimes he heals in other ways—by sharing in the pain and sorrow with us.  Remember, our lives our not just for this side of eternity.  We are eternal beings—created for eternal life with God.  And one day on the other side, perhaps we’ll look back and forever be comforted to see how Jesus was with us in our pain and suffering we experienced in this life.

One last note.  It’s easy to read this episode and get the impression that the greatest thing that happened to this town was Jesus’ healing of so many people.

But no—that’s only a surface understanding that will lead to disappointment (i.e. “Why doesn’t he heal ME?!”).

Perhaps the greatest healing this town experienced was the eternal presence of the living God who came in real flesh and bones to walk among them…to enter their reality…and to forever change it by his.

With Jesus your reality cannot stay the same.  Rest in this truth my friend, just rest.

Application Questions:

1.  Why didn’t Jesus heal everyone in the world at one time?

2.  Why does Jesus allow pain and suffering?  Could it be that they are tools in his hands to help pry open the dark corners of our hearts to experience more of his love?

3.  In your suffering right now, how does the presence of Jesus change your reality?

Tagged

How do you define “amazing”???

“And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching.  And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.  And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit.  And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”  But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”  And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.  And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this?  A new teaching with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”  And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.”   Mark 1.21-28

Have you ever looked through a kaleidoscope?  You slowly turn it and various shapes and colors fill your view.  But in order for you to see anything, you must have a light source behind it—otherwise it’s all just dark.

In the same way, Jesus comes to a synagogue in Capernaum and begins to teach the people.  His teaching brings light—and suddenly for everyone present the experience becomes a living kaleidoscope.  New understandings and shades of meaning fill their minds, causing two kinds of uproar.

A man who is apparently possessed causes a disturbance.  Through him the demon cries out in protest at the presence of Jesus who silences it and casts it out.  The man is set free—and then just as suddenly as he appeared on the pages of Scripture he seems to forever disappear…

Next, we see the general crowd being amazed at the production that is unfolding before their eyes.  They’re amazed at the exorcism, but notice the height of their attention is given to Jesus’ authoritative teachings.  In this episode we are not given the content of what Jesus said, but it must’ve been exemplary and game-changing.

And that brings us to the key we need to unlock and apply this episode in the Gospel of Mark to our lives today.  In this story, Jesus is the X-Factor.  He is the unpredictable Game-Changer.  Basically, what he does is spectacular and amazing—and unexpected.

Does this mean that everything he will do in your life will be spectacular and amazing?  Yes and no…

“Yes” in the sense that in Christ you (like the man in the story) are now set free from the dark powers that saturate our world.  Negativity and toxic thinking no longer need to hold you captive.  Disappointment and despair no longer can hold you hostage.  Light has come to your darkness—even if at first it seems so bright that your eyes must squint a bit.

And “yes” in the sense that Jesus’ teaching continues in each of our lives—and that is nothing short of  amazing.  His teaching is not listed here because it continues even to this very moment.  By the Holy Spirit, he is guiding every person who has surrendered to follow him no matter what the cost.  This is truly amazing—something fresh and new for every day!

“No” in the sense that the man who was set free is apparently never heard from again—and we can only assume goes on his way, back to making a living and paying bills.  He has been set free—and in the Gospel of Mark one is set free for service.  Service to God sometimes is spectacular and crowd-gathering.  But more often than not, it is simple and mundane—doing everyday things as best as you can trusting that God is pleased with your dedication and faithfulness.

But think about that man for a second.  Perhaps he went back to a mundane or “normal” life.  Let’s say for a moment that he was a farmer.  He goes back to toiling in the hot son, planting, waiting, and finally harvesting.  On the surface nothing has changed.   But like the seed in the ground, everything has changed.

Now when he works, he does so out of thankfulness and joy.  He is forever thankful to Jesus for setting him free.  Now he can successfully work for the welfare of his family and community.  And he is laboring out of joy—knowing that he is contributing to the welfare of mankind by his work.

The amazing factor we must keep in mind is really simple:  sometimes how we define “amazing” is not how God does…

It might be amazing to be a great Bible teacher who wows the crowds with your teaching and erudition in Scripture.  But it could be more amazing that you are working out of thankfulness and joy every day, even in the “little things” that no one else seems to notice.

But the point is this:  God does take notice.  And just as we are the unseen spectator in this Gospel of Mark, so God is the Unseen Spectator in our lives.  He’s watching and reading every page—what will you write today in the story of your life?

Application Questions:

1.  If you were in the synagogue watching this story unfold, how would you have walked home differently—as a different person?

2.  In what ways do you need God to do “amazing” things in your life?

3.  In what ways do you need to redefine the word “amazing” in your life?

Gone fishing…

“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.  And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.  And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”   Mark 1.16-20

When I was a kid, I often went fishing.  I remember standing on the shore and casting my line with great anticipation to see if I would catch anything.  I’d watch the bobber with frozen determination.  When the fish was nibbling at the bait, I learned how to be patient by allowing the hook to set—not react too quickly or it would get away.  And of course, I remember cleaning the fish I caught and preparing them for supper that night (not the funnest of things to do).

I wasn’t the world’s best fisherman, but one thing is clear for every fish I caught:  its life drastically changed, forever.

Back in Mark 1.14-15 Jesus said that for one to enter the Kingdom of God he/she would need to repent and believe.  Notice how this passage immediately follows as an illustration of this in action.  For these disciples, a real change of mind had to occur about their life direction and priorities.  They were now in the custody of Christ—and by comparison nothing else mattered.  James and John show how even one’s family of origin must take a back seat to Christ and his call for life ownership.

Think of your life right now.  How locked into your career are you?  What would it take to pack your bags and move across the country?  To a place where you really didn’t know anyone?  What about moving to a foreign country to work as a missionary?

But I fear that somewhere along the way, we’ve allowed our dreams to take the place of God’s dreams.  We’ve convinced ourselves that our good intentions are His intentions.  For us, God has become our Godfather instead of God our Father.

Mark wants us to see that sometimes the call of Jesus upon us is abrupt—and he deserves a sudden response.  In other words, our attitude about Christ and his call upon us is crucial to entering our destiny in his kingdom.

So what can we learn from this earth-shattering call of Jesus upon the first disciples?

  • God has every right to call a disciple in any way He chooses
  • Walking with God is worth more than anything we could give up
  • Genuine followers of Christ are willing to give up what they have for a life of faith in Jesus
  • Following Christ is not necessarily about tomorrow—it’s about today (even though we are assured of eternal life)
  • Ultimately, God knows what is the best way for you to live your life—even when it may be disconnected from your training or past

As we think about following Christ, let’s remember the story of a particular request to David Livingstone (1813-1873), the famous missionary to Africa.  A missionary society sent him a letter asking, “Have you found a good road to where you are?  If so, we want to know how to send other men to join you.”  He wrote back, “If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them.  I want men who will come if there is no road at all.”

Application Questions:

1.  If you were working with Peter the day Jesus came by, how would you have reacted o his call?

2.  Do you think God really expects people today to “leave everything” to follow Him?  Why or why not?

3.  Are you more committed to your job than you are to the call of Christ upon your life?  Do you care more about your retirement than you do about bringing others into the kingdom of God?

Have you ever been arrested?

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”   Mark 1.14-15

I’ve always wanted to.  It can be really dangerous—but what isn’t?  Yes, people have died doing it, but you can almost say that about anything…  Ok, I’m talking about rock climbing.  I’m also talking about sky diving.  And scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef—and don’t forget about climbing Mt. Everest.

Inside we yearn to be free.  To be free from fear, to be free from chaos, and to be free to just do something that makes us feel, well, free!

So why would Jesus get it all mixed up—and take that desire for freedom away?  Doesn’t he want followers?  And doesn’t he want some kind of marketing appeal?  But as we’ll see, Jesus doesn’t do things the way we would expect them to be done—and that’s what makes him, um…Jesus.

Soundbites get people in trouble.  You’re walking by coworkers, and they hear you say, “…yeah, she is great disaster” when you really said “she is a great manager”…  Politicians have to be especially careful—because the media is looking for that golden soundbite that will boost readership and exposure (and the more scandalous the better!).

Jesus provides a soundbite that sums up his entire message—his singular view point—his holistic ministry.  In the Gospel of Mark, it’s the very first thing he says:  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand:  repent and believe in the gospel.”

Notice a few things about this poignant message.

In verse 14 John the Baptist had just been arrested.  The Greek word behind the English translation for “arrested” is paradidomi.  It’s a word that means to be taken into custody; perhaps even condemned to die.

It also means ‘to be managed’ or taken care of.  It even refers to fruit being ripe, turning itself over into the farmer’s custody (see Mark 4.29).  But what’s interesting about this word is that it is used throughout the Gospel of Mark, most often referring to the times in which Jesus will be arrested and crucified.

Here is what we cannot miss.  To pair the word paradidomi so closely to Jesus’ soundbite in Mark 1.15 is no coincidence.  The Gospel writer is trying to tell us something…  Let’s try to decode this for us today.

It’s as if we need to realize that on one hand, really following Christ (true repentance and faith) is allowing God to arrest us and to take us into His custody.  This may sound negative, but it’s really bringing us back to where we belong—to what we were made for.  Remember, the problem in the Garden of Eden wasn’t our lack of freedom—but in having too much freedom (sort of—this could be another blog entry in the future).

However, the case could be easily made that in turning to God we actually GAIN freedom.  We are set free from the power of sin and death—and we gain the freedom to be more human than ever—to be free to become our true selves.

But I think Mark wants us to first realize that freedom is never free—and to have this kind of existential freedom requires us to truly belong to God—in His full custody and care.  In keeping with this understanding, Jesus wants us to realize that he must truly be the manager of our lives.  He is to be over every detail—not just our “religious side” but over our emotions, our relationships, our hopes, dreams, and yes, even our fears.

But just as a coin has two sides, there is another side to this soundbite being so close to the word paradidomi.  Remember the agricultural definition?  Mark wants us to realize that when we allow Christ to fully gain control of our lives, real fruit will ripen in us for God’s glory.  Fruit of inner peace and deep trust that ripen in no other way.

We can’t manufacture inner peace.  We can only trust in things, ourselves, and others to a certain point.  But when Christ gains full access, his light shines on us, seeds of faith sprout and bloom, and after a season, fresh fruit is born!

Perhaps this is the key to having genuine repentance and faith in Christ.  We must first allow ourselves to be arrested by Christ.  And unlike Judas who betrayed Jesus, we have the full assurance that Christ will never betray us.  Jesus was betrayed so we would never have to be.

This is how Jesus’ message begins in the Gospel of Mark.  The challenge is simple:  surrender your life to Christ.  It’s a kingdom that is not earned or built by your own power.  Instead, it is one in which you are allowed entry when you humble yourself and say, “Yes Lord, I need you.  Please take complete ownership of my life.”

Will you take this step today and experience the fruit of inner peace and deep trust that is the true freedom you were created for?  What’s holding you back?  If you’re not in God’s custody—then to whom do you belong?

Application Questions:

1.  Do you believe Mark 1.14 is connected to 1.15 as discussed above?  Why or why not?

2.  Is surrendering ownership to Jesus something you do once?  Or is it something that you revisit over and over again as you mature and go through different stages of life?

3.  What’s the hardest part about surrendering your life to Christ?  What’s holding you back?  What would your life look like if you surrendered in every way?

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